The owner of Washington’s professional football franchise has temporarily shifted his focus from the ongoing fracas over the team’s name and his squad’s lackluster preseason performance to tell fans that he is now exploring the possibility of building a new stadium somewhere in the capital’s metro area.
Daniel Snyder, who has owned the team since 1999, still loves FedEx Field. But seeing as how it is now 17 years old (Washington began playing there in 1997), he thinks it is too old to host National Football League games.
“Whether it’s Washington, D.C., whether it’s another stadium in Maryland, whether it’s a stadium in Virginia, we’ve started the process,” Snyder told Comcast SportsNet Washington on Wednesday. “We are going to push forward. We’ve started meeting with architectural firms. We are in the process of developing because it is a long term that you do it.”
“I’d like to see it sooner than later, but we love FedEx Field,” he continued. “It’s a great place to feature our home games, but it’s 17 years old now. I think it’s time for us to start looking and we’re doing it.”
If it feels like replacing stadiums at such young ages is becoming a trend, well, it sort of is. The Atlanta Braves announced this year they would leave Turner Field — which opened for the Olympics in 1996 — in 2017 for a new ballpark in suburban Cobb County. The NFL’s St. Louis Rams are exploring new stadium options to replace (or massively renovate) the Edward Jones Dome, which opened in 1995. The Braves’ city-mates, the Atlanta Falcons, are in the midst of replacing the Georgia Dome, which opened 1992. The Tampa Bay Rays are trying to move out of (admittedly not-that-great-for-baseball) Tropicana Field, opened in 1990. The Indianapolis Colts left the Hoosier/RCA Dome in 2008, just 24 years after it was opened. We could keep going.
Snyder, who has been poking around about a new place since at least 2007, made no secret about one of the reasons he wants a new stadium: he wants the nation’s capital to host the Super Bowl.
“I think this region, not only this town, this region deserves a Super Bowl,” Snyder told CSN Washington. “It ought to be here, it would be a fantastic accomplishment. It’s the biggest sporting event in the globe. It’s the nation’s capital, it’s a no-brainer.”
This has, in Miami, New Orleans, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Indianapolis, and elsewhere, become the prime justification for asking city councils, state governments, and taxpayers for public subsidies to build new stadiums for NFL franchises, and it has been endorsed by the league’s front office, which all but admits that cities need sparkling new venues if they want the sport’s biggest game. Build a new stadium, get the Super Bowl. It’s simple, and it frees owners from actually having to mention that these stadiums also provide huge boosts to the values of their teams and thus, their personal bank accounts.
Of course, attracting the Super Bowl is a terrible reason for any city or state to finance a stadium. The structures themselves are not worthwhile public investments, as study after study and stadium after stadium has shown. Neither is the Super Bowl itself nearly the economic boon its promoters say it is.
The Super Bowl-as-economic-stimulus theory is especially untrue for Washington, which, thanks in part to a few noteworthy buildings that people travel to see live and in color, has no trouble drawing tourists to its city without a Super Bowl (or the Olympics) to lure them. D.C., in fact, drew an estimated 17.4 million tourists to the metro area in 2013. Even assuming every player, fan, vendor, corporate big-wig, referee, security official and booster at a Super Bowl is a tourist who has never fancied the District a place worth visiting before, they would almost certainly amount to a miniscule percentage of the annual tourist total. To suggest the Super Bowl would be merely an insignificant economic event for the city would give it too much significance, and yet taxpayers would be shelling out hundreds of millions of dollars to get it (Snyder, for his part, did not say he’d seek public financing for a new stadium and did not make the economic justification, though it’s hard to believe that both won’t eventually happen).
Still, Snyder will get a stadium, and he will likely get a very lavish, very expensive stadium, because he is in a position that has to make other NFL owners green with envy. In Maryland, D.C., and Virginia, Snyder has three potentially interested autonomous partners with whom to tango, and either the District or a suburban town around it will give him what he wants. Will it be D.C.? It’s hard to tell, even if Snyder has sugarplum dreams of putting a dome over the creaky old RFK Stadium where the team played from 1961 to 1997. It isn’t clear whether the city, even with a budget surplus, has the financial means to make that dream a reality, given that it had to piece together a complicated land-swap deal to try and build a new stadium for Major League Soccer’s D.C. United. Then there is the name: the D.C. City Council unanimously approved a resolution calling for a name change last year, and at least one member has said the Council would not approve stadium money for Snyder unless the team finds a new moniker (outgoing mayor Vincent Gray has said the same, though he eventually changed his mind, sort of).
None of that is likely to keep D.C. from trying its hardest — council members semi-regularly introduce absurd proposals aimed at bringing the team back inside city limits — but the smart money would instead be on Virginia. Snyder, according to the local NBC affiliate, has already had talks with Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) about a new venue. Washington has already moved its headquarters and practice facility to the commonwealth, and McAuliffe’s predecessor, former Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), began laying groundwork for stadium talks before he left office. Virginia will also likely bring much less trouble over the name, given that it is home to the newly-formed “Redskins Pride Caucus” and, unlike Maryland and D.C., top lawmakers who have shied away from weighing in or calling for change.
But where the stadium ends up doesn’t really matter. What matters is that Snyder will get a new stadium to replace his only sort of new stadium, and that the public will probably pay for most of it. That will only embolden other owners to pull the same trick, convincing themselves, their fans, and their communities that teenage stadiums are obsolete simply because they aren’t generating every tenth of a penny of revenue possible like a new stadium in some other city. And as long as cities and states are willing to dance that dance, our stadiums will become even worse investments than they already are.